The smallest guitars, small scale and other oddities

I have an affinity for small scale guitars! While I own plenty of full sized axes, my favorites for practice include my daughters cheap guitars..a 23" scale nylon string classical and a 24" electric. And for travel, I often pack her ministrat (22"?) or a Guitalele (smaller still).

Not surprisingly, I dream of a similarly sized gypsy guitar. Its been a long wait and may not happen unless I shell out $3K for something custom.

In the mean time, Cordoba makes an interesting and cheap 23" cutaway, the La Playa, in both steel and nylon versions (each braced accordingly, so I am told). Either would probably be fun with silk and steels, but I wonder what would happen if they were fit with a gypsy bridge and tailpiece? Mockup pic attached. Seems like a fun experiment. Any thoughts on which model (nylon or steel) would make a better modding platform for gypsy transformation?


  • thickpickthickpick ✭✭✭
    Posts: 142
    AJL now makes a travel guitar. Not cheap, but not $3k either.

  • cbwimcbwim ✭✭✭
    edited January 2016 Posts: 189
    I found an old Decca parlor guitar for $75 at a music store outside Seattle. Had heavy bronze strings and a good bark. My friend Michael who used to build guitars for Tacoma Guitar turned it into something of a Gypsy Jazz guitar.

    First thing was to remove the frets from the fingerboard and plane it into a long wedge full thickness at the last fret and down to zero at the nut. A new fingerboard with a zero fret was glued on, profiled and fretted. A DR Tailpiece was added along with a bridge of comparable height to my Shelley Park. Finally the crappy tuners were replaced with some old Schaller tuners I had laying around. We stringed the guitar with some John Pearse Nuages and the guitar sounds surprisingly nice, and fairly even throughout the scale. The key is to plane the old fingerboard into that wedge to increase the bridge height and string angle, which increases the punch while decreasing the sustain. After a year the body hasn't sunken under the bridge so it can take that extra elevation. I'll try to post some pictures tomorrow.

    The scale is pretty short. The 12th fret is slightly on the body. There is no cutout and of course there is the usual round hole. I thought of modifying that into a D hole or maybe cutting an insert to reduce it to an oval hole. But it is fine as it is. I am re-profiling the back of the neck so I can get my smallish hands around it.
  • klaatuklaatu Nova ScotiaProdigy Rodrigo Shopis D'Artagnan, 1950s Jacques Castelluccia
    Posts: 1,665
    Eimers makes a "Mini-Mac" in two sizes. The scale length is not listed, but presumably both are shorter than 640mm.

    I wouldn't put a gypsy bridge and tailpiece on a nylon string guitar. The stress and distribution thereof would probably be all wrong.

    "It's a great feeling to be dealing with material which is better than yourself, that you know you can never live up to."
    -- Orson Welles
  • beenawhilebeenawhile ✭✭
    Posts: 23
    Whoa..that AGL travel guitar is unique! Beautiful website, too.

  • beenawhilebeenawhile ✭✭
    Posts: 23
    I am very interested in the Eimer's mini-macs. I have emailed for scale information several times in the past, but unfortunately have never heard back. Maybe that model isn't a priority. Wonder how many of them are floating around in the world.

    My wish is that one of the Asian builders would consider marketing something similar.

    As for a tailpiece on a classical, normally I would agree that it would be a risky idea. But I have a hunch the smaller La Player might be tough enough to take it and I wouldn't be too worried if it couldn't.
  • beenawhilebeenawhile ✭✭
    Posts: 23
    cbwim, I love your approach and have dreamed of something similar. I have had thoughts (dreams) about adding a wedge under the fingerboard of a flattop, but it didn't occur to me that wood might be removed from the neck to create the angle. Great call. Baroque violins had similar wedged necks.

    Would love to see pics of your gypsy Decca!
  • cbwimcbwim ✭✭✭
    edited January 2016 Posts: 189
    Here it is. Scale length is 609mm (24"). Overall length is 36.5" X 14.25" at the widest bout. Weight 3 lb 8 oz. Width of fingerboard at nut 41.5mm, at 12th fret 52mm. Height of bridge in the middle is 23mm. The fingerboard has a slight arch across similar in fashion to how Shelley Park sets up her guitars. We did narrow the neck some to fit the fingerboard, which was something Michael had laying around from his days at Tacoma Guitar. We filled in the button holes since these were offset one fret because of the zero fret put buttons on the side only.

    You can see the former fingerboard, which surprisingly was made from a hard maple plywood. It planed down beautifully into the wedge. For sure - the wedges used under the fingerboards on Baroque violins were the inspiration for this approach. I've spent plenty of time hanging around with violin makers over the years.

    This guitar fits nicely into a cloth Gator GBE-Mini-Acou Gig Bag that I got for $25 at Musician's Friend.

    My actual out of pocket costs for this project were low. Michael and I traded labor - I made him a set of Scottish Smallpipe drones and gave him another bagpipe from Spain so we could play Galician music together. Thus the only dollar costs for me besides the gig bag were the guitar for $75, the Dupont Nickel (not a DR) tailpiece from DjangoBooks for $80.63 including shipping (this alone cost more than the guitar!) and $9 for strings. Total $189.63 plus Michael's labor.

    Nice thing about this old guitar. Even though it is plywood, its age (1970s probably) and the possibility that it was played and played has contributed to a decent sounding guitar. Nothing as elaborate as a real Manouche guitar such as my #250 Shelley Park. But for something that I can take traveling and don't have to worry over if I leave it in the trunk of the car - it is perfect.

    The Decca label is fun too. This is actually a metal badge pinned to the headstock. The Japanese company chose that name because they liked it. Has no direct relation with the record label.

    The original guitar is a Decca DM1-204. These can be had cheaply - there is one on eBay right now for $49.99 Buy it Now.

    Left to do it to finish profiling the back of the neck, and put a finish on it. For now I have it smoothed and protected with shellac. I hope to get around to this soon!


  • beenawhilebeenawhile ✭✭
    Posts: 23
    Casey, that's really great! Thanks for taking the time to share all of the specs and construction detail. Love that blonde neck! I feel motivated to try this....

    Can you comment at all on the tone before/after you did the work? Did it bring the guitar closer to what we expect for Gypsy Jazz or do you consider it mostly cosmetic. Also, how is the playability considering that the strings are pretty far off the top?

    So your in the bagpipe business? My first instrument was a chanter, but that ended when the reed needed replacement...probably my fathers way of saying enough (he drummed in a pipe band briefly).
  • cbwimcbwim ✭✭✭
    Posts: 189
    The tone definitely improved with the increased bridge height - more bite to it, less sustain. What is most remarkable is how well developed the tone is, due to the guitar's age. It is also very even across the scale.

    I do need a slightly higher bridge - I have shims underneath it now for winter and that reduces the brightness on the top end.
  • beenawhilebeenawhile ✭✭
    Posts: 23
    Good to know. If I go for something like this and can't find the right person, I might have to look up your friend Michael (I am in Portland).
Sign In or Register to comment.
Home  |  Forum  |  Blog  |  Contact  |  206-528-9873
The Premier Gypsy Jazz Marketplace
Banner Adverts
Sell Your Guitar
© 2023, all rights reserved worldwide.
Software: Kryptronic eCommerce, Copyright 1999-2023 Kryptronic, Inc. Exec Time: 0.015806 Seconds Memory Usage: 1.034798 Megabytes